I am 67 and continue to work full time. Believe it or not, this is by choice ― and I don’t believe that I’m alone in the decision to pursue non-retirement.
Lots of people approach retirement expecting that there will be some specific event to trigger their departure from the workplace. They frequently look to the calendar for guidance, something I was once guilty of doing myself. When I was 50, I told myself I would work until 55. When I was 55, I moved the needle to 60. No surprise that 65 came and went too.
So when will I stop work? When it stops being fun. When I find something I want to do more. When my dependent children are launched and move out. When I win the lottery. Or maybe never. I have simply learned to embrace my non-retirement.
According to the U.S. Census, the average retirement age in the United States is about age 63 ― an age at which you wouldn’t be eligible yet for Medicare benefits and if you planned on starting to collect Social Security, you would earn less in benefits.
But that’s beginning to change: More Americans ages 65 and older are working than at any time since the turn of the century, Pew Research Center found in an analysis of employment data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In May 2016, 18.8 percent of Americans ages 65 and older were working, compared to just 12.8 percent in May of 2000, Pew found.
For some, the savings lost in the recession makes the idea of retiring today tougher. For others, it’s the knowledge that we are living longer and healthier and don’t really want a 20- or 30-year retirement. And still others look at the turmoil in the world and question their own willingness to travel as they once expected they might. An AARP study found that one-third of baby boomers are shunning international travel out of safety concerns.
But just because you aren’t going to retire doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare. Here are five of the smartest things I did in preparation for my non-retirement:
1. I keep getting regular health checkups.
It’s not aging that worries me, it’s unhealthy aging. I can honestly say that at the first sign of serious illness, I’m taking my second medical opinion and hitting the road. I rely on my regular health checkups to tell me when that will be.
While I’m not in total agreement with Ezekiel Emanuel who famously published in the Atlantic that he plans on dying at age 75, I get where he’s coming from. By 75, you’ve pretty much been as productive a member of society as you’re going to be. Your kids and grandkids love you or hate you. You’ve made your mark on the world, and at a point somewhere ― I’d push it to 82 myself ― you are more likely to become a burden and be miserable than you are to distinguish yourself in any other way. So why keep on keepin’ on?
2. I stopped thinking I have to retire.
I’m tired of people asking, “Do you really want to spend your last day on Earth at work?” Well yes, I suppose some of us do. The thing about that question is the answer can change literally at any minute. No, I would not want to be a 45-year-old who keeled over at my desk clutching my heart. But nor would I want to be the 85-year-old whose weekly calendar contains little besides medical appointments.
3. I take frequent work breaks.
I work for a great company that gives me a generous amount of time off. I take multiple vacations where I disconnect and travel to exotic places. I also take some days where I stay home and just lose myself in a book or binge-watch. I use my paid volunteer days to give back to my community. When I’m sick, I’m encouraged to stay home and I do precisely that.
I cherish my job and cherish my time away from it even more. But I likely wouldn’t cherish that time off if I was “off” all the time.
Here’s a reality: Retired people get bored. A lot. I have to laugh when I read an article that suggest they find a second career to keep busy. Why not just stay with their first career?
4. I accept that retirement isn’t a “use it or lose it” thing.
While “use it or lose it” is applicable to many parts of aging, it’s just not the case for retirement. Just because I don’t want to leave my job today, the option to leave it tomorrow will still be there. It doesn’t go away.
That, in and of itself, is very empowering. I know I can walk out the door whenever and if-ever I want. Now what did Janis Joplin say about freedom being just another word for nothing left to lose? Non-retirement is about using our freedom to choose.
5. I learned to silence the ageists.
There is a popular myth that suggests baby boomers should leave the workforce in order to “make room” for unemployed millennials. It’s untrue ― and ageist.
The workplace does not hold an infinite number of jobs. Economies expand and shrink. The goal is to create enough jobs so that everyone who wants one can have one.
To exclude a segment of the population that is still capable of working and being productive because of age is a prejudiced act: Try recasting that sentence with we need to “make room” for unemployed men or unemployed white people and you can see how prejudiced and logically false it sounds.